Share schemes make the right connection

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SHARE option schemes are popular with both companies and their staff. Employees have the chance to buy shares, often at a generous discount on market prices, and companies ensure that the workforce has a direct stake in the success of the business.

Share Save accounts allow employees to put money aside every month. They can then buy the shares up to 10 years down the line, at the price pertaining when they joined the scheme. These accounts are starting to go on-line, so millions of savers will have the chance to follow their savings and their shares much more easily. The Halifax is the first to get its scheme running electronically, and plans to put it into full use on-line soon. The bank runs share save programmes for about 350 companies, with more than 1 million individual accounts.

It has finished a successful pilot scheme with one company and found that 58 per cent of staff joined; normally, the take-up for an initial share option scheme is around 45 per cent of the workforce.

Halifax hopes to introduce the system to other company share schemes, and it is looking at additional features, such as share price feeds for public companies.

For private firms, Halifax will supply electronic calculators so that staff can work out the value of their savings after a given period, based on monthly savings figures, and then the value of their options when they reach maturity.

"Employees could decide how much they want to save, and how much the potential benefits would be," explains Colin Kemp, head of corporate business at the Halifax.

"Scaling up the system is the next stage for us," adds Mr Kemp.

If it goes to plan, employees in some of the UK's largest firms will be able to check their stock options as easily as their e-mail.

Anyone with views on electronic investments or financial web sites, good or bad, can contact Stephen Pritchard at